chicago band whitney on their not so secret love of gossip girl

Having just released their new music video for Polly, get to know the kids behind the sweet sounds of Whitney.

by Milly McMahon
20 September 2016, 3:21pm

An idle, scruffy and familiar endeavour babbles steadily though Chicago alt-pop five-piece Whitney's ambient harmonies. Piecing together uplifting platitudes evocative of heart warming memories, the steady tempos which underpin the bands trademark melodies plod, canter and progress with a predictable but enlightened sense of assurance. Tinged with a distinctive 60's aesthetic, freedom and existential expressionism lie at the very heart of the band's emotive and illustrious lullabies. Formed by chief founders Max Kakacek (Smith Westerners) and pal Julien Ehrlich (Unknown Mortal Orchestra), instrumentalists Josiah Marshall, Will Miller, Malcolm Brown, Print Chouteau and Charles Glanders all first came together in 2015, signing to independent Indiana imprint Secretly Canadian. 

Releasing their country licked, soul infused psalms under the moniker of Whitney has allowed for Max and Julien to explore their more intimate insights and fears with better clarity and brave conviction, free from the shackles of bravado or judgment. Striking a resonating chord with their combined poetic abilities, both boys have embraced their sensitivity, pushing forward to then piece together the Whitney debut entitled Lights Upon The Lake. A brilliant compendium, the LP encapsulates originality and talent, enhanced by a refreshingly unkempt edge. Composing effortless but accomplished orchestral scores, an unbridled sense of optimism and nonchalance comes to life on record, representative of Julian and Max's laid back attitude to life. 

Living out of their tour bus for months, playing back to back international dates, the road ridden duo arrive at Gothenburg's Way Out West festival, Sweden's music capital, feeling slightly jaded but psyched for the opportunities new experiences may bring. The friends look like the lead characters from some 90's teen rom-dram. Whitney feels unparalleled with it's direction and sentimental sincerity, and the band possess great potential for coining outstanding future anthems. Underplaying their greatness, sleepy from the high demand their music constantly commands, i-D finds Julien and Max backstage chatting about their real passion, Gossip Girl

After you finished recording No Woman, you both felt so buzzed you ended up wandering the streets of Chicago listening to the track on your speakerphone. You all stayed up for a couple of days partying straight through. Do you experience that sense of elation with each piece of music you record?
Max: Definitely. For like a day and half after you have the initial idea you're so happy. Then you come back down to earth to decide what needs to be done to the music to make it real.
Julien: The reason why we went so crazy that night when we stayed up for two days and took molly water was because that was the first time we realised we could do something like that, make something that great. So naturally we lost our minds after that!

As you progress the music you make as Whitney do you feel the quality or direction is changing?
M: From what we have talked about, the next album is going to be a bit more of a night time record. This current record reflects light so the next won't be dark, it will still be poppier but it might be more scandalous.
J: This project isn't so stressful but l think the idea of making music is a little bit stressful sometimes, because once you come up with an initial idea that you feel is good enough, you constantly have to one up that idea. The mountain you build up is the piece that you get to back off from and look at.

That's a lot of pressure to place on yourself, how do you alleviate that pressure?
M: We don't. That's why this project worked out because we didn't start freaking out. The band relationship is just to help each other out and work towards the best goal.
J: To relieve the pressure sometimes smoking weed helps, so that you can look at the mountain from a different perspective.
M: Just playing the music helps, sometimes you get into a situation where you are just sat in front of a computer by yourself editing different parts alone. When we go in the basement practise space and play a song instead of just obsessing over it on the computer or pacing around the apartment, we then end up doing what feels natural in that environment. That usually inspires a better idea than something you would have come up with when you're just sitting in from of a computer.

How does it feel to have an artist presence now, as opposed to just being another anonymous and up coming hopeful?
J: We don't really give it much thought. This one pizza place down the road near my ex girlfriends house started giving me free pizza.
M : The people we get to hang out are just our friends and just don't treat us that way.

It must be pretty affirming to stand in front of crowds of people and have your songs chanted back to you?
M: I love playing shows.
J: It's actually the hardest when a good friend or someone you have known your whole life is at a small gig.
M: Its true, but we sound like Britney Spears. She says things like "its so easy to get In front of a crowd of 40,000 people but if l play a show to 12 of my closest friends in a bar that's when it gets hard."

It's true though, the intimate shows are hard! It feel like right now in modern music there is a poignant honesty resonating in male songwriter's lyrics. Was the intention to be more emotionally transparent a focus for you as a band when you wrote the material?
M: It took a few songs to get to that point when we were fully baring our souls to each other. We got to that point of reflection by naming the band 'Whitney' and then creating this weird character in our heads. When the first few songs came out, they were almost a bit tongue in cheek, playing up to this weird idea of a person that we had conjured up and then after the second song, which was the one that we we thought was so good, we thought screw the persona, keep the band name, but we want to put in our real feelings.

What's the deal with having girlfriends on the road?
M: It's tough.
J: Max is in a committed relationship; l am not anymore.
M: But l haven't had a phone for five days so she is probably freaking out.
J: She can't be happy with you! l feel the need to be free.
M: Most of us have girlfriends. We just watched the Notebook today so you are getting really weird answers.

Why the Notebook?
J: Its one of our favourite movies!

What conversation precipitated you watching The Notebook?
J:That's the only movie that l watch and l like.
M: What else is on our list right now? Princess Bride is coming up... l'm trying to watch Four Weddings and a Funeral. Anything Hugh Grant is my vibe. Notting Hill is great. Crazy Stupid Love is the best. We got really into Gossip Girl at one point.

Did you ever see the final episode of Gossip Girl. Who was the secret writer?
J: It was lonely boy, Dan Humphries. There are so many plot problems in that story. l think they just panicked and chose him at the end. Penn Badgley is in a band, shout out to him in this story! l want to meet him. He plays music and l would love him to come to a Whitney gig.

Did you used to watch Gossip Girl together as a band?
J: Yeah, l even re-watched it with the band. l first saw it when it came out and l was in high school. I liked Taylor Momsen from the Pretty Reckless. I tried to shotgun a beer with her in 2011 when we were playing the same festival. She said "they will take pictures of me and l'll get in so much trouble if l have a beer, so l can't, but man l would love to!'


Text Milly Mcmahon

Gossip Girl
Way Out West
music interviews